How do you Measure Church Growth during COVID?

For the last three decades, people “doing church” have been trying to measure growth in a post-Christian age.  It is true: for every generation of people that pass, fewer attend church.  Measuring a church’s growth by using the old methods do not work anymore.  The old methods  of measuring growth were, according to us Baptists, by the “Three Bs”: Buildings, Budgets, and Bodies-in-Pews.  You knew a church was successful if they had to build more, expand budgets, and count people coming to church.

That no longer works–people do not automatically “come to church” anymore.  Like politicians who fight for every vote, we Christians have to pray for every lost soul and bring people to Christ the hard way–by going out and sharing Jesus rather than waiting for people to come to us. 

Buildings are no longer viable–in fact, most church starts and successful churches renovate old spaces or meet in non-traditional venues, such as storefronts.  Many churches would rather invest in missions than maintain buildings. 

 And budgets are misleading.  Numbers and finances only tell a part of a church’s story.  Take First Baptist Church, for instance– We only devote a fraction of our annual budget to missions, but that number does not take into account all of the assets we use for missions.  We use our campus for missions and partnerships, including hosting the main office of IR Youth for Christ, breakfasts for the High School football and baseball teams for Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the Food Pantry of Indian River County.   

We also invest time in missions in the community–our staff serves on boards of non-profits, and many of our members volunteer in local endeavors, from Habitat for Humanity to Shining Light Gardens.  We have people who serve in Rotary and at Exchange Club.  You can’t put a number on those relationships! 

So, if you can’t measure church growth by the “Three Bs”, then how do you measure growth–because churches ought to grow!!  Replace the “Three Bs” with the “Three Ss”! 

The first “s” is Spiritual Maturity.  We may not have a lot of bodies in pews right now, but we need to grow spiritually–to put feet to our faith, be on mission in our local community, and exhibit a “fire for the Lord” in the world.  Spiritual maturity translates into church growth–people excited about the Lord attract excitement in others, and they want to visit the church that is on fire for the Lord! 

Filling our pews means we first must be filled with the Holy Spirit in demonstrations of power, in proclaiming Good News, and in modeling God’s victory in Jesus Christ in all we do!

The second “s” is Sustainability. We may not have a large budget, but we need to sustain the missions God has given us and provide for the welfare of our church, its ministries, and its outreach endeavors.  Sustainability does not come by way of gimmicks, but by being a healthy church that is a good stewards of all God provides, including using our gifts and skills for the Kingdom and utilizing the assets that make us unique in our community.

The last “s” is Shoes on the Ground.  As I mentioned, people no longer come to church in droves–we need to bring church to the people, and be Christ’s Church beyond the walls of the campus.  The only way to get bodies in pews is to put shoes on the ground and to participate in the mission of God, join the Holy Spirit, and be the Good News in our community.  Where are you called to be on mission–in family, at home, in the boardroom?  Then work as for the Lord, and bring the “shoes of the peace of the Gospel” into the battlefield and byways of life. 

As we continue to devote this year to vision-casting and dreaming of our church’s future, let’s consider these three Ss and our church’s growth.  Remember–the first s, spiritual maturity, begins with YOU.  You need to make an effort to fulfill these convictions, you can’t expect others to do it for you!

Review of “God and the Pandemic”, by N. T. Wright

I always appreciate the writings of N. T. Wright. I first read him in college, when I was investing in historical Jesus studies. Wright’s work, captured in the tomes that are his “Israel and the People of God” series, is captivating, comprehensive, and life-changing. Since then, Wright made it a goal to reach general readers, which has made him a successful pop-culture author as well.

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

So when I saw his newly published reflections on the COVID pandemic, God and the Pandemic, I jumped at the chance to order the book. I suspected that Wright’s work would be fresh, insightful, and prayerful. We pastors are always in need of new ways to look at current events and speak faithfully to them from a biblical point of view, and I thought Wright would help me in that endeavor.

Upon reading God and the Pandemic, I could tell Wright wrote it during the height of the pandemic, and my guess is that we’ve come along way in our treatment and handling of COVID since he turned in his final draft. For that, Wright is courageous in waging his bets on providing a reflection that would still be relevant now, eight months into COVID.

In one sense, he avoided making his reflections time-sensitive by drawing readers to the larger, timeless biblical story and how the Bible might be helpful in negotiating a global crisis. He does so by dealing with texts surrounding theodicy (the study of the problem of evil in the world) that might help us negotiate collective grief and pandemic.

Wright argues, for instance, that the Old Testament deals very little with why evil happens, and focuses more on God’s provision and our response during such crises. In fact, the text is in conflict with itself: Some parts of the Hebrew Bible say that bad things happen because of sin, while other parts–such as Job–say that bad things happen to both good and bad people. The debate fits within an ancient worldview in which wrestling with God and text–rather than providing absolutes–frames narratives dealing with sinful people and a holy God.

The New Testament, where Wright is most at home, examines Jesus’ own commentary on this Hebrew debate concerning evil. Jesus focuses on repentance and response also. When Jesus’ disciples ask him why a certain man is born blind, for example, Jesus says that the man’s ailment is not a result of sin, but that “God’s glory might be shown through him.” Jesus does not provide answers to the “why” of evil or of pandemics, but reinforces accountability to get right with God.

This biblical thread upholds Wright’s thesis, which is not to ‘jump to solutions’ but see how our response may fit the moment. The response for which he argues, therefore, is on the side of lament. “When we are caught up in … awful plagues,” he writes, “We are to lament, we are to complain, we are to state the case, and leave it with God.”

This notion is actually one I can support, but I wish Wright went further. His biblical treatment is handy, but his pastoral suggestions are a bit lacking. I support the need to lament, and our national stress and divisive politics points to the fact that we need to cry and repent more than anything else. Yet, I am left asking what creative word might there be to move beyond lament, to a call to national prayer, repentance, and humility.

Leaving it with God is a good suggestion, but we need more to go on because our congregations will not be satisfied when our answer to the loss of over 230,000 lives is simply, “leave it with God.” I know Wright’s book offers more than that–and it is worth reading because it is clear, concise, and authoritative (especially if you’ve never read Wright before). Nor do I want to simplify or miss-characterize his reflection, which is very well done; but I finished the book wanting–and needing–more.